It takes a special occasion to get someone to trade in their Dodger blue hat for that of the Brew Crew.
But when it comes to Bakersfield and one of their own, team allegiances fly out the window during certain occasions.
On Friday night at Dodger Stadium, Centennial High School graduate and current Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes made his third career Major League Baseball start and first in California against Los Angeles.
It’s as close of a homecoming as it gets for a Kern County kid. There was plenty of friends and family on hand excited to see how one of the rising stars for the top teams in the big leagues is ascending on the biggest stage in baseball.
Yes, this was a big night under the lights in Tinseltown.
Burnes made his first start for the Brewers on March 31. It was the first time a Kern County pitching product made an MLB start since Colby Lewis in 2016. And it was the first starting debut for a local since Phil Dumatrait made his for the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.
This was rare and I wanted to soak it all in.
Full disclosure: When Burnes and myself spoke before his final spring training appearance last month, it was pretty clear this day would come.
As the No. 4 starter for the Brewers this season, his spot in the rotation was ripe for Friday night in L.A.
Our request for a spot in the press box was denied, for whatever reason, by the Dodgers' media relations staff. In turn, I hooked up with a couple buddies who have season tickets and we made the trek through rush hour traffic into Chavez Ravine.
It was about an hour before first pitch when we walked into the stadium. Then, no more than 50 paces into the concourse, we ran into Nick Harker.
His son, Hanz, grew up playing baseball with Burnes and the two forged a friendship at Discovery Elementary. Hanz, a great baseball player in his own right, was a standout at Liberty and played collegiately at Kansas State while Burnes starred at St. Mary’s.
There was Nick, a Dodgers fan for life and constant supporter of Burnes, sporting his Dodgers retro jersey while also donning a Brewers ball cap on his head. A true fan, while also is there to support a local kid and friend of the family.
“I’m rooting for him to do well,” Harker said. “Even as a Dodger fan. But seeing him here on the mound in this stadium. It’s surreal.”
It was even more incredible for Burnes’ family.
His younger brother, Tyler, came down from Stockton where he's a junior on the University of the Pacific men's golf team.
The family, including parents Rick and Kandi, were gifted seats three rows behind home plate from some friends.
Ironically, those same seats made famous by Larry King, Mary Hart and Tommy Lasorda, were now being occupied by five people sporting Brewers colors.
“It’s still him out pitching and we are close to him,” Tyler said. “But then you look around and you are in a stadium full of 40,000 people. It’s insane. It doesn’t seem real.”
Rick Burnes had to remind himself Friday night where he was. When Corbin faked a pick-off move to second base the boo-birds came out.
“It’s crazy when you have 40,000 people out there reaching to his every move,” Rick said. “But that’s my boy out there on the bump at Dodger Stadium.”
This was also the first of a three-game series rematch from last season's National League Championship Series. The Dodgers and Brewers are widely considered favorites to challenge for the pennant this year as well and Burnes is a key player for Milwaukee.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, the 24-year-old Burnes made his way through the minor league system in seemingly the blink of an eye. He was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2017 and made his final minor league start on June 13 last season.
The organization then moved him to the bullpen, and he made his major league debut less than a month later for Milwaukee.
Burnes was highly successful in middle relief for the Brewers in 2018, going 7-0 in 30 regular season appearances and recording a save. He gave up just two runs in nine innings during the postseason last October.
But being a starter is different.
It’s also what Burnes wants. It’s always something he's worked hard for.
“When I see him out there with his warm-up pitches before the first inning and he takes his walk behind the mound and does a short prayer, it centers you back knowing he is here and thankful for this opportunity,” Rick Burnes said.
The struggles through his first three starts are evident. Burnes gave up five runs in 4 ⅓ innings on Friday, including three home runs to the Dodgers. When he exited the game, the Brewers had a 6-5 lead and held on for an 8-5 victory. Burnes (0-1) is yet to record a win as a starter despite the Brewers going 2-1 when he takes the mound this season.
Then there's the issue with the long ball. While Burnes is tied for eight in the National League with 21 strikeouts, he's given up a major league-high nine home runs in just 14 ⅓ innings.
At times it's hard to watch for his parents but this is the bigs. It’s not going to be easy. There will be lulls.
But there's also the fact that it was time for the family to get together in a way that's been the norm for more than a decade — from little league, to Centennial, to college, to the minors, and now the big stage.
Burnes ate breakfast with his parents Saturday morning before he headed to the ballpark. Rick and Kandi returned to Bakersfield.
The competitor inside Burnes will forge ahead in hopes the next trip back home will bring even more friends and family to the stadium. The plan is that the next-day meal will be a celebratory one.
“He’s already gearing up for the next start,” Rick said. “There is one thing about Corbin, no matter how tough it may look like it’s going, this kid is going to work hard to get the results he wants. These are the biggest bats in the world. There is no panic. He’s geared for this.”